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Film Marketing: DVD As Art Object

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 19, 2011

Altamont Now

Every couple of months — Heck, every couple of days! — it seems like another nail is driven into the DVD’s plastic slip covered coffin, from major rental store chains going bankrupt to the cutting back of little red envelopes being mailed out. Someday it’s going to get to the point where you won’t even be able to get discs popping out of a little kiosk at the supermarket anymore.

We’re slowly being conditioned to think about movies as a disposable medium. Not as in you’re going to be throwing discs into the trash, but your memory of what you just watched is going to be disposed right out of your brain as the next movie streams right in.

But, if you’re a good cinephile you know that films are art and should be treated as such. (Well, make that they have the capacity to be art.) And if we’re going to be living in a movie streaming paradise someday, what are film lovers going to ask for on Christmas, birthdays and other holidays?

A long time ago, i.e. 1984, Criterion understood that films released for home video should come as a collectible item: Excellent film-to-digital transfers, loads of bonus features, fantastic printed booklets, nice packaging. Of course, that makes their DVDs a little pricier than the ones you can snatch at the checkout counter of Target or Walmart, but these are the films that true film lovers want to own and learn all about. Not the ones that are going to be lying on a blanket at somebody’s next yard sale.

Still, there are ways to make a DVD release, even a self-released one, a little more special to own to encourage buyers to take a risk on something they haven’t heard discussed on the weekend evening news box office report. The idea is to just think about the DVD release as an art object, which should encourage packaging and bonus feature ideas that are unique to a particular film.

And until a good underground film streaming service is ever available, underground filmmakers are going to have to increasingly use the hard sell to get their DVDs into peoples hands because most VOD companies, so far, are locking them out.

The inspiration for this article came from indie filmmaker Nathan Wrann who recently commented on the Underground Film Journal that his excellent thriller Burning Inside has been locked out of Netflix and Itunes for completely unknown reasons. Well, you can guess what the reasoning is. Both companies have been shelling out big bucks to studios and production companies to secure VOD distribution for major Hollywood product that there’s no more cash left over to give to the little guys. And streaming is allegedly different from how cable companies operate just how?

Hey, that’s not to pick on companies’ business plans. (I’m not canceling my cable anytime soon.) It just means that, once again, even though we look like we’re headed into a new media frontier, underground filmmakers still have to find creative workarounds to get their films seen by audiences. And right now that means making attractive art object packaging for DVDs.

To maybe help you get thinking about your own DVD release, here’s some creative ones I’ve seen recently:

Altamont Now

Altamont Now, dir. Joshua von Brown. So, I raved about this film for years until it finally came out on DVD from Factory 25 in 2010. I enjoy the packaging for this film not just because it includes a quote by me on the back cover, but it’s got an awesome painted cover by the film’s star, the brilliant and talented Daniel Louis Rivas. Like Criterion, it comes in a little paper slipcase and, although there’s no booklet, the DVD is loaded up with extras, like the standard commentary and deleted scenes, but also other short films by von Brown, music recording sessions and a soundtrack.


North South East West compilation, dir. Vanessa Renwick. This collection of short films by Renwick isn’t out yet, but check out her Kickstarter page, which includes a video of her planned packaging ideas. She got permission to use art by one of her favorite artists on the cover and is going to have the packaging printed up by a local printer who still uses an old-fashioned letterpress machine. If you want to seem classy, nice paper packaging always seems like the way to go.

Cinemad Almanac 2009

Cinemad Almanac 2009, dir. various. This is another collection of short films, but it does not have classy paper packaging. It just has the standard black box. However, what this little gem has is an extensive interview booklet by the disc’s curator, film journalist Mike Plante. It’s like a Criterion booklet on steroids with essays on and interviews with every filmmaker included on the disc. It’s a veritable history lesson of modern underground film.

The Taint

The Taint, dir. Drew Bolduc and Dan Nelson. You know what, screw the DVD format altogether! For their trashy apocalyptic epic, Bolduc and Nelson self-released The Taint on VHS using outdated pan-and-scan technology. Granted, the production value on this film is so top-notch, it’s best to experience it in the best format possible, but releasing a VHS tape these days has got the feel of a band that still releases their album on vinyl. Sadly, this was a limited edition that’s no longer available, but you can still enjoy the film on DVD and in a variety of download formats.

I Am Ugly

Anything by Bob Moricz. How many times do I have to keep bringing up just how damn unique and creative I believe Moricz’s self-released DVDs are. He’s set up an Etsy shop to sell DVD-R versions of his films, so he doesn’t have to order a ton of backlogged pile of discs that’s going to fill up an entire closet. Plus, each DVD-R he sells comes in its own creatively decorated cardboard container featuring artwork designed by his wife. But, yes, recently he’s expanded into professionally pre-produced DVDs that you can order as well, if you want to go the traditional route.

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